Arsenal 2: Giroud 64', Walcott 67'
Liverpool 2: Suarez 5', Henderson 60'
By all accounts, the eleven that Brendan Rodgers selected today is the strongest one available--Jose Enrique's continued fitness woes meant that he wasn't yet ready for a full ninety minutes, and in his stead Glen Johnson once again started at left-back with Andre Wisdom on the right. To the surprise of few, Jamie Carragher partnered Daniel Agger in the middle with Pepe Reina back in goal, and the expected front six of Lucas-Gerrard-Henderson through the midfield and Suarez-Sturridge-Downing up top rounded off the starting lineup.
A frenetic opening twenty minutes was interrupted by the opener from Luis Suarez, which came about as a result of some catastrophic Arsenal defending. It looked as though the chance was gone when Daniel Sturridge couldn't score one-on-one with Wojiech Szczesny, but a clever flick wide from Jordan Henderson left Suarez with a shot, and the Uruguayan blasted through (or off) a defender to give Liverpool the early lead.
It was back-and-forth stuff from there for most of the rest of the half, with Pepe Reina making a number of fine saves--first at the near post on Theo Walcott, and then again later from Walcott when the winger tried to curl one around at the far post. For their part Liverpool couldn't take advantage of a number of defensive miscues from the hosts, and while Liverpool looked as though they should have had two or three at the half, they entered the break only one goal up.
The second half promised more of the same, with Arsenal pressing and Liverpool content to soak it up and try to either survive or hit on the break. They were able to do the latter on 60 minutes, with Jordan Henderson jinking through two defenders and out-muscling Andre Santos to get himself a chance. Szczesny saved his first effort, but a fortuitous bounce left him free on goal, and a cool left-footed stab put Liverpool in dreamland.
And then it all went to shit. Sloppy marking by Daniel Agger on a free-kick from Jack Wilshere left Olivier Giroud alone to head in past a helpless Pepe Reina, and that Spanish goalkeeper was left rooted to the spot three minutes later when Walcott arrowed a shot past him from the far side. From two-nil up to level in minutes, and all they could do from there was hang on. They did, thankfully, but offered nothing going forward and wasted the few breaks they had, with a late save by Szczesny to deny Luis Suarez the only chance that offered any threat.
Considering the first hour or so, this is obviously an exceedingly frustraing result. Credit to Arsenal for not dying off after Henderson's goal, which very well could and should have settled the match. For all their faults this season, Arsenal have shown good fight-back in the second halves of matches, and today was no different. Given the strength of their display over the final forty-five, a point is the least they deserve.
But it also feels like two points dropped in a sheepish manner from Liverpool, who couldn't hold onto their lead and had little to offer in response. It always had an air of inevitability about it, but just when it looked as though Liverpool would finally tie a match up, they bundled it away in a three-minute disaster and couldn't recover.
That the only apparent tactical response came in the form of Jose Enrique for Daniel Sturridge was disappointing; the move only served to isolate Luis Suarez late in the match, and with the left-back somewhere between left-back and winger, the Uruguayan had to rely on Henderson and Stewart Downing for attacking support, something neither provided particularly well. To lump Henderson in with Downing is harsh, especially given how good the midfielder was for much of the match and how completely useless Downing was in nearly every facet of the game.
What makes it all so maddening is that we're once again treated to the best and worst of Liverpool, and it strips them of what could have been a fantastic result. Smart interplay and solid pressing in the first half undermined by an inability to finish, and a sloppy, nervy second half that made it seem as though a loss was the only likely outcome.
It's going to take some time for me to buy into the "I'd have taken a point" mindset after this one, and right now the only way that feels as though it's going to settle in is if they better today's result on Sunday.